I never really got into tabletop gaming, but ever since the release of the original Dawn of War, I’ve been a fan of the Warhammer 40K licence by way of Relic Entertainment’s RTS series. This has led me to try out a variety of Warhammer games—40K and the fantasy ones—in more recent times with varying results. Lamenting this with esteemed editor David Hollingworth, he suggested a conversational on this very topic: the quality of Warhammer games in recent history, as well as the better examples in the past.
Read on for our full discussion.
Nathan Lawrence: So I’ve been doing a bit of research into Warhammer games. It turns out… there’s a whole mess of them, and some of them really embrace that word “mess”. Even if we go as recently as 2016 games based on the Warhammer IP, it’s a mixed affair. As you know, I’ve never played the tabletop game, but I count myself as a fan by proxy because of some of the games I’ve played and loved. I particularly enjoy the 40K stuff, which is why it’s great to see that four out of the five 2016 Warhammer games are of the 40K variety—Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, Space Hulk: Deathwing, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, and Eisenhorn: Xenos.
Of those four, I’ve played three (didn’t even know about Eisenhorn: Xenos until I was researching). Of those three, I liked Battlefleet Gothic (it was buggy at launch, so I haven’t gone back since waiting for patches), I loathed Eternal Crusade, and I was disappointed by the unrealised potential of Space Hulk. Even if I take a glance at the Steam reviews for Eisenhorn: Xenos , it doesn’t appear to be a hit with the community (Mixed overall reviews).
The other Warhammer title from 2016 was Total War: Warhammer, and as a casual fan of the Total War series (that phrase seems like an oxymoron), I appreciated the timely assistance of the tutorials, and particularly enjoyed how the faction differences felt more pronounced than previous Total War games that seemed to deal more with variations of mostly familiar unit types. Overall, I enjoyed it, even if it did seem to have some optimisation issues .
Now that my ranty intro is at an end, what did you think of 2016’s Warhammer games?
David Hollingworth: If you’re going to judge on quantity alone, Games Workshop’s had a hell of a year when it comes to games releases. But—speaking is a somewhat lapsed but once super-passionate fan of the game on the tabletop—the quality has been sorely lacking. GW’s ‘throw it all at the wall and see what sticks’ approach to development can’t be doing its much-defended brand any favours. This is a company, after all, that has spent millions litigating against copycat miniature designers, fighting fan films, and even redesigning entire product lines to make them more unique in intellectual property terms.
I think the last GW-based video game I really liked was Vermintide, which is still supported to this day, and still a lot of fun. And I think a lot of the success of that game is based on the fact that it’s not really based on an existing game—rather it takes the popular Warhammer Fantasy setting, and turns into a solid co-op shooter with hack-and-slash elements. By comparison, nearly everything released last year aimed high, and failed in one way or another. Eternal Crusade would be an ambitious project for any shooter developer, but for Behaviour Interactive it was just too huge in scope, and the final game was a mess. Battlefleet Gothic—which I loved on tabletop—played nothing at all like its miniature-based cousin. To my mind, it just didn’t capture the ineffable feel of the original. I’ve not played Xenos, but the novels the game is based upon hardly seem ideal fodder for a third-person shooter.
The biggest GW release though, Total War: Warhammer, was arguably the greatest let down. It’s great on first blush—I loved playing the preview, but after final release and a good amount of play there were a lot of really annoying design elements that kept from really getting into it . Even more, it seemed indicative of the incredible lack of foresight that GW was displaying when it came to its biggest IPs. Before Total War: Warhammer was even released, the world as it looks like in that game ceased to exist, replaced by the cartoonish Age of Sigmar, which was itself a massive kick in the goolies for old-school Warhammer fans.
But maybe I’ve been too close to the setting. What’s worked for you?
Nathan Lawrence: I’m glad you mentioned Vermintide, because it was difficult for me to see it as anything other than an inferior Left 4 Dead knock-off. It wasn’t so much that I hated my time with it; it was more that I found it hard to look beyond the comparison and find that Vermintide didn’t really bring anything new to the table (at least not in terms of what I played). I put it down after a few maps, but that may have been more because I was only playing with one other person for most of that, and the stand-in AI compatriots weren’t terribly bright.
It’s interesting what you have to say about Total War: Warhammer. I say that it was optimisation issues that stopped me from going back for more, but I’m assuming it’s been patched (a bunch of times) since I last played it, and I still haven’t had an inkling to go back. I didn’t come close to finishing the campaign, but I feel that between my time with the Vamps in preview and a couple of cracks at playing the Empire in the campaign (I failed miserably the first time), I might be done.
In terms of what has worked for me, it’s hard to go past Relic Entertainment’s Dawn of War games. As a big fan of Relic’s strategy games, the original Dawn of War paved the way for my obsession with Company of Heroes, and I came back for a whole lot of fun when Dawn of War II dropped. I didn’t even end up touching competitive multiplayer (outside of the odd competitive match) in DoW II, but I found myself really engaging with the Diablo-like approach to the campaign with its heavy emphasis on heroes. I played through all of the core game and most (if not all) of the DLC cooperatively. It was freaking awesome, even if I don’t recall it being particularly challenging once you’d levelled- and geared-up certain heroes.
I’ve only just realised that Relic also made Space Marine, and now I feel doubly bad for having missed that (before, the guilt was just because of the Mark Strong element). Did you ever get around to playing Space Marine, and what other Warhammer games stand out to you as must-plays?